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Hello and welcome to my blog formerly called Gypsy-K. Please note that I am only updating this blog while I am walking from Rome to Jerusalem from September 2015. My online home and permanent blog is at www.kymwilson.com.au. You can also sign up for pilgrim postcards and newsletters here. Thank you for being here and supporting my journey. With love and courage, Kym xx

Saturday, 27 November 2010

A Hot and Spicy Lesson in Thai


I peer into the white, ceramic bowl. Guay dtiaao sen yai phak mai neuua naam tom yum, not necessarily said in that order but loosely translated as rice noodles, large, vegetable no meat, soup with tom yum flavour. Flat, wide rice noodles rest on the bottom of the bowl along with some bean shoots and some kind of shallots. They are surrounded by a brownish liquid upon which floats hundreds of red specks. I gasp. So much chili. I always order nik noi phet, a little spicy. But today in the confusion of unexpectedly ordering from a roadside vendor without an English menu, I have forgotten this simple but important request and my noodle soup is phet mak mak, gluttonously spicy in traditional Thai style.

I push the noodles around my bowl with my fork and spoon, stirring more of the red specks to the surface. I stare at them in semi-disbelief.  How am I going to eat this dish with so much chili? And just how much pain am I going to inflict upon my tongue and lips?

Only once before have I made the mistake of ordering a painfully spicy red curry. I was at a Thai restaurant popular with tourists and had assumed that spicy would mean tourist spicy and not Thai spicy.  I was wrong. Very, very wrong.  I suffered through the the dish in silence, my face redder than the curry I was eating, my eyes bulged and sweat beads formed on my eyelids. It took quite some time for my dinner companions to figure out that something was wrong, that my silence wasn’t quiet enjoyment of my deliciously spicy red curry. As fans of ordering phet mak mak, they found my situation amusing as I slowly ate small spoonfuls of curry quickly washed down with icy cold Tiger beer. I lost the battle with the curry and surrendered half way through the dish, my oesophagus and stomach burning from the chili consumption. Not even the two beers I swiftly sculled in 15 minutes could do much but momentarily quell the fire in my mouth and stomach. Ever since, I have always made sure I have ordered phet nik noi.

Thankfully this dish is not too big but I am fearful that I am about to experience a repeat of the red curry saga. I stop playing with my food and slowly, I lower my spoon into the bowl and scoop up a small amount of the liquid and bring it to my lips. It tastes sweet with a trace of lime juice and fish sauce.  I swallow and within seconds experience the subtle burning fire of the chilies in my mouth. That wasn’t so bad.  I repeat the process again and again.  After the fourth mouthful, the fire finally takes a hold of my mouth.  I gulp greedy mouthfuls of cold white wine knowing that it will do little but lower the flame for a second.  I try to scoop up more liquid without flecks of chili without success.  My spoon is a chili magnet.

Slowly, I make my way through the dish, eating the noodles, bean shoots and shallots. After each mouthful I pause and wait for the chili burn to crescendo, but after the eighth mouthful, the burn seems to have peaked. My lips and tongue are on fire and my eyelids are sweating once again but it is bearable. So hungrily, I chow down the remainder of the soup including the remaining bracken lake of chili. In celebration, I scull the remainder of my wine. But then promptly take another glass to aide the after burn. I ate phet mak mak and enjoyed it! But I’m in no rush to experience the daily chili burn.  For now, I think I will stick to ordering phet nik noi.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Luck in a Lantern

The moon is full and illuminates its brilliant, milky, whiteness through passing clouds. I follow the stream of motorbikes and cars to Naiharn Lake to join with others to celebrate the 12th lunar month of the year, Loi Krathong, with a small offering of thanks to the Goddess of Water, Phra Mae Khongkha, and, hopefully, to bring good fortune for the year ahead.

Many Thais and farang gather at the edge of Naiharn Lake, releasing circular banana leaf crafts of various sizes adorned with flowers, incense and candles, flames flickering in the breeze that skims the water. Many gently splash their crafts away from the shore, carrying their personal items of hair and nail clippings, to ensure their good fortune and trying to prevent the craft returning and bringing with it bad luck.

Krathong or no krathong, my life so far has been filled with so many blessings. Tonight, I am happy to watch couples, families and friends gather in this simple ceremony, offering something small of themselves to something infinitely bigger and hoping for blessings to be returned. Tonight, I turn my eyes to the skies and the partially hidden stars. I plan to send my own little light up to greet them and shimmer for a few moments in time.

We unfold the white, paper tube and attach the burning coil to the wires at one end as lightning flashes around us.  The lantern is of simple construction but it is huge. It is almost as tall as I am when it is sitting on the ground.  We light the burning coil in different sections until it stays fully alight. And then carefully maneuvering the lantern in the breeze so that it doesn’t accidentally catch alight, place it on the ground to allow the flame’s heat to expand the air trapped within the tube. Impatiently, we wait. We tug the lantern upwards to see if it is ready to fly but it settles back down on the ground and we trap it to the ground using our toes so it is not swept sideways with the wind. We move our feet and again tug it upwards, but it returns to the earth.

Farang and Thais stop and watch this motley crue of three Italians, one pirate and an Aussie girl, trying to get the lantern aflight. A well-meaning Thai lady comes over and touches the balloon.  
“Okay, okay” she says in her soft Thai drawl as she holds onto the second syllable longer than the first.
We heed her advice and lift the lantern up into the breeze. It takes flight at 45 degrees instead of the 80 degrees necessary to clear the pine trees between the lake and the beach. Within seconds, it is firmly lodged in the closest pine tree and the lantern catches fire. I cannot help but laugh as people stop to take photos of our lantern bonfire. Others groan wondering if the tree itself will catch fire. It doesn’t.

We are indeed lucky for we have more lanterns. We repeat the process of setting up and lighting the lantern. This time, we wait a little longer for the air within the lantern to heat and for the breeze to temporarily cease before attempting take-off.  We lift it up and offer it to the sky which gratefully accepts it and draws it gracefully upward. I watch our lucky lantern rise up and away, its light growing smaller as it moves away from us into the night sky. And as I watch it, I feel all the hopes and dreams held within my heart, in all stages of growth and even those yet not even articulated to my conscious mind, rise up and away with our lantern, offered to the universe for incubation and fruition. I watch until I can no longer see the light of our lantern and then we join the party on the island in the centre of the lake.

The sky is illuminated with light, man-made and natural as fireworks and lightning crackle and sizzle.  Oblivious to the approaching storm, we follow the path past food vendors, straight to the beer garden where we buy cold Heineken straight from the tap and sit down to watch the end of the Miss Rawai competition. Gorgeous, Thai girls stand on stage in a line, smiling in their golden, sparkling traditional dresses. The competition comes to an end at the exact moment the first drops of rain land upon us. We take shelter beneath some sturdy tarpaulins, just in time, as the rain has now become one constant, massive waterfall. We wait for the rain to pass. And wait. And wait. And wait.

As the ground beneath our feet becomes mud, then puddles then a miniature lake, it becomes obvious that the rain is not going to stop any time soon. I pull a few chairs together and lie down, curling into the foetal position as best I can in an attempt to keep dry and warm, and wait for the storm to pass. And wait. And wait. And wait. I watch the sections of the tarpaulin buckle under the weight of the water that it catches and cannot escape faster than the fresh rain falling. I hope it strong enough to withstand the weight, stay upright and keep us dry.

Two hours pass and I am gently nudged out of my short sleep. Finally the rain has stopped and we can ride our motorbikes home. Wearily, I drag my feet through giant puddles on the way back to the bike, grimacing as my leather shoes become saturated with muddy water. And I can’t help but wonder, what if our first lucky lantern had cleared the trees…..







Friday, 12 November 2010

She calls for me

Sometimes I think it’s just enough,
To sit and watch her from her shore.
But as I watch the waves roll in
I know that’s not the truth at all.
She calls for me to come to her,
To submerge myself, wash clean my care.
She calls for me, she calls for me.
Her beckoning voice
Is always there.
I could float upon her silvery skin,
Watch life below take place from above.
But it’s underneath her rippled waves,
I want to be, where I most love.

And so I answered her call. After seven months and thirteen days living above sea level, I finally returned home, slipping beneath her silvery skin. A few tentative breaths and then I relaxed as I stopped carrying my own weight and allowed her to envelop me.

The water was a cooler 29 degrees celsius leaving me cold and shivering in my well-worn wetsuit, and the visibility was only around 8 metres. Although the black tip reef sharks did not grace me with their presence, the water was still teeming with life. Menacing moray eels hid within staghorn coral; bright and bumpy wart slugs decorated the walls and sandy bottom; moorish idols swirled in their coupled dervish dance; clownfish performed their version of the haka, safe in the tentacles of their anemone home; groups of lionfish rested vertically on coral fans; the shy little seahorse hid in his small cave; whilst above me, the great barracuda hovered on guard.

Carried by the steady current, the only thing for me to do was breathe and enjoy the life around me. I wished it was possible to stop, pull up a chair and just watch the intricate relationships take place around me, for this real life spectacular is better than any reality TV show or soap opera, no script or play acting required.

I longed to lie on the sandy floor and watch the goby and the burrowing shrimp living together in symbiotic harmony. The poor-sighted shrimp tirelessly maintains his burrow whilst the goby stands on watch trying to determine if I am friend or foe. If he becomes alarmed by my presence, the goby darts into the burrow and the shrimp heeding his warning, quickly follows. Their relationship is mutually beneficial as the goby gets a safe place to hide and the shrimp, a warning of any danger that he wouldn’t otherwise see. I could watch this interaction for hours, all the while wondering if humans will ever be able to live with eachother and the Earth in such cooperation and harmony or continue to be focused on individual gain. Today there’s no time to stop and wonder as the current carries us on. 

There is a very natural rhythm to life here. Everything goes with the flow and circle of life. Whether it be good weather or bad, every creature gets about its business, living one day at a time as it could be their last if their number is called up on the foodchain wheel of life.  Fleetingly, I dissolve into this rhythm.  I am part of this world, breathing, watching and moving through the water with life all around me.

After another hour spent submerged and part of this underwater world, I slowly rise to the surface to resume my place above water. I feel some peace. The sea did as she promised and washed away almost all my cares, except one. What if we, humans, don’t learn to live in harmony with the sea?  What, soon, will be left for us to see?


Wart Slug

Clownfish

"I'm coming to get ya"

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Il Dolce Far Niente, Monsoon Style


The monsoon is making a final stand. It knows it is time to leave and it is either hanging on for dear life or trying to remind me that it has complete control of things around here or making a grand exit in a “Remember me, I’ll be back” kind of way. Maybe it’s all three.

It’s cool but not cold. The sky is constantly light silver grey and the rain persistently plays cat and mouse with me.  It stops.  I come out of hiding only for it to start again. “Gotch ya” it says, sprinkling me with dewy drops of wetness in its shallow victory dance. Yes, the monsoon is in control of when and for how long I spend time outdoors. And for the last few days it has been telling me the same thing. “You are my prisoner.  You will not go anywhere and if you try to escape I am going to spit at you with my jagged little tongue making you wish you never ventured outside. Ha ha ha ha ha (evil laugh)”  Yes, this is the joys of monsoon.

Not one for conflict, I have become somewhat subservient to the monsoon.  It says “Stay inside” and I respond “Sure no problems.  Whatever you say Mr Monsoon.”  Occasionally my inner rebel attempts to wrestle control and in a defiant gesture I don my yellow poncho and I ride away from home, head held proud and high.  But within seconds, the rain makes my plastic rain coat stick to my skin like wet cling wrap and my fingers begin to resemble damp prunes and so I divert my course in favour of buying supplies and returning home, once again.

If I am to be honest, I am pleased that the monsoon is still here.  In a world where we rarely do nothing, where we are focused on achieving and doing things that we don’t really want to do but do so out of obligation or because we think we should do them (should , the word from the head and not the heart), the monsoon means I have every reason not to be outdoors, every reason to be confined to home, every reason to do nothing. I don’t even have to justify not doing anything because when you are on a tropical island and it is pouring with rain and your only mode of transport is a motorbike, there really isn’t much you can do.

Each day I wake from a long and peaceful slumber (well not quite peaceful, there is the issue of a constant snorer) and I get out of bed when I am ready to get out of bed, not because I have to go to work or I have something particular to do, just because I have had enough of sleeping and now it is time to do something else.  I always, always pour a big glass of cold water  Sleeping in the tropics is thirsty work.  And I brew some (Italian) coffee. I usually drink the whole pot. Apparently this is bad because it is enough for four people, but in my mind, this is completely acceptable since I have given up my twice daily perfect Melbourne latte.

So, coffee pot by my side, I sit down and find myself asking, “What do you want to do now?” Sometimes the answer comes back “I don’t know." This is the response that comes when I think I should be doing something grandiose but I can’t think of what it should be. Ahhh,  there is that word, “should” again. Word of the head and not of the heart.  To which I respond (and yes I do often talk to myself, not out of madness but because I like to and it is quite often an interesting conversation) “So, if you did know, what would it be?”

And this is when I find the simplest responses coming back. I want to eat something. I want to read my book. I want to write. I want speak to someone back home. I want to research some volunteer work. I want to figure out a way to help Dopey (my soi’s stray dog). I want to lie here and dream about endless possibilities. I want to lie here and listen to the pitter patter of the rain on the world outside. I want to take photos of flowers and bugs and rain drops. Or even, I want to feel the rain land like little kisses on my face.

This is my il dolce far niente. This is my version of doing nothing when it is wet and stormy outside.  Making one small choice at a time.  Answering the question “What do you want to do now?” from my heart and not my head. Feeling the sweetness of this slower life.